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Excerpt from

By Himself
By
Allison Landa


himself

You bought the gun at Longs Drugs, where Pleasant Valley becomes Fifty-First. Itís the big Longs, the twenty-four hour one with toys and construction paper and clothes and fabric and tampons, Advil on one aisle and dog contraptions on the other, and you canít even guess how many nights youíve spent safe and secure, walking down those alleys lined with everything the world has to offer, that plus bags of Cheetos. You read there and no one tells you not to, no one says itís not a library so move it kid, leave that book for the person whoís going to pay for it. Youíve read the books that are supposed to make you feel better and the Danielle Steel books with glittery covers.

Your mom read those in the bathroom and sometimes you heard her in there crying. Other times sheíd go out and smoke by the pool, the pool which never got finished because your folks didnít have enough cash, so it became a hole in the ground and a reason for them to fight. Your family forgot why they started digging in the first place. The house got sold eventually and the real estate guy just kept shaking his head, like he was saying these folks donít know what theyíre doing and no, your folks didnít.

You bought the gun in the toy aisle. There was a young kid out with his parents, the dad black and the mom Latina, one of these Oakland specials your parents would say but you donít mind, you donít discriminate. You like how mixed this place is, how it keeps the eyes off you, how it makes you feel human. You didnít buy the gun because you wanted to die, you bought it because you wanted to feel what it was like to have a barrel pushed against your face, in your mouth, and it might as well be a toy because you werenít actually going to use it. You just wanted to know what it was like to feel so close, and you knew your imagination could take over, and really, thatís been your problem all along.

carolann

I havenít always thought he was my smartest client, but recently Iíve changed my mind. Iíve been his caseworker going on five years now and for the first six months he barely said a thing, just came into my office and looked around, and that frustrated me because, you know, Iím human. Iíd try to pull him out, say things, provoke him a bit even, but nothing opened him up. The day he said something to me, Charley and Iíd gotten into a big fight, I mean just massive, and Iíd come to work red-eyed and mascara-stained. He came in and he was holding one of those gone-to-seed dandelions that you see in spring, the kind the kids pull out of the ground and then make a wish and puff, blow away the fluff, and he held it over my desk and made like he was going to blow but didnít, and somewhere I just smiled.

Youíre pretty, he said. It wasnít a hit-on-you sort of thing, I know the difference. It was a statement of what he considered fact, and after he left that day I picked up the phone and called Charley, and we laughed, and whatever weíd fought about that day puffed off like that dandelionís fluff.


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